An unnamed 14-year-old who who’s going to have trouble finding anyone to sit with in the cafeteria has stepped forward as the plaintiff in a new class-action lawsuit against Snapchat, which claims the app’s Discover section subjected him — and other impressionable teenagers — to sexually explicit content in the form of listicles like “23 Pictures That Are Too Real If You’ve Ever Had Sex With a Penis.” (This list, did in fact prove too real for his young mind, it would appear.) With his attorney Mark Geragos (former clients include Michael Jackson and Winona Ryder), the teenage John Doe is seeking $50,000 in damages for each of Snapchat’s alleged violations of the Community Decency Act. Which translates to $50,000 for every story a teen might actually enjoy reading.
In case you’re not familiar with it, Snapchat Discover is a partnership section of the app where major publishers like BuzzFeed, Cosmopolitan, and The Wall Street Journal share content with users on the Snapchat platform (the Journal’s output is sadly lacking in steamy listicles and eggplant emoji). When users swipe to that section of the app, they are immediately greeted with headlines and images from those publications, content that the lawsuit argues could be inappropriate for younger users. (See here: “I Got High, Blown, and Robbed When I Was a Pizza Delivery Guy.”)
Case documents were shared on Twitter earlier this morning and paint a clearer picture of just how this very serious class-action suit came about. Mostly, you can blame Disney. Each of the “Too Real If You’ve Ever Had Sex With a Penis” pictures featured a beloved character from the franchise, like a still of Aladdin smiling dreamily, captioned with “when he pulls down his pants it’s more beautiful than you could have imagined.” (The list goes on, but we’ll leave the rest to your imagination so as not to corrupt you too.) “Innocent pictures from John’s favorite Disney movies were perverted,” the suit explains, though despite his mounting concern John kept swiping for content.
After reading one particularly enlightening article, “What It Is Really Like to Let People Finger You in Public” (thank you, Vice) our young hero, desperate to keep his heart and mind pure, did what any good teen would do. “John brought what he observed to the attention of his mother. John’s mother was shocked and horrified to learn that such explicit content was actually being made available by Snapchat,” the suit explains. Since then, the two have been “compelled to bring this class action on behalf of the millions of children and parents who have been deprived of the choice to monitor explicit material being made available by Snapchat to minors.”
Of course, this is exactly the point. Snapchat is a perfect youth economy: childishly lewd articles written by young adults served up to Snapchat’s enormously young fan base. Who else other than the under-25 crowd is going to click on something like “23 Pictures That Are Too Real If You’ve Ever Had Sex with a Penis”? The pretense that BuzzFeed’s and Cosmo’s sexy listicles are for adults beggars belief, and eventually Snapchat is going to have to figure out how to walk the line between tame advertiser-friendly content and the more racy stuff that teenagers will actually click on (just like MTV and every other advertiser-supported youth-culture brand before them). “Plaintiff John Doe, and the putative class of minors, are undoubtedly interested in discovering new things on Snapchat,” the suit argues. I’ll bet.
Update: Snapchat provided the following statement to Select All. “We haven’t been served with a complaint in this lawsuit, but we are sorry if people were offended. Our Discover partners have editorial independence, which is something that we support.”